Everyone seems to be buzzing about balance. It’s a hot topic in many books, magazines and newspaper articles. With titles ranging from Busy But Balanced (a book by Mimi Doe) to “Balance is Bunk!” (an article from Fast Company magazine), we read mixed messages about what balance is, why we want it, how we might have more of it, and whether it even exists.

If you want to end the battle for balance, I recommend you put down the magazines and spend some time looking inward instead. When you define for yourself what you mean by “balance” and clarify what having more of it will bring you, you can begin to create ways to experience more of it.

Your definition of balance
We each have different ideas about what balance is and we have different ways of measuring it. What’s your view? Consider these ideas and note which one (or more) you gravitate toward. You might even try fine-tuning them for yourself.

“Add it up”
You measure balance by comparing the amount of time you spend engaged in the different activities of your life. When one area is up (say, work) another is down (time with family). You look at the total time you spend striving and compare it to the time you spend resting and decide whether they feel balanced. People who define balance using hours want to feel balanced in the shorter term, and tend to focus on individual weeks or days.

“Quality, not quantity”
Your definition of balance hinges on your desire to feel successful both at work and in your personal life at the same time. (The Families and Work Institute, www.familiesandwork.org, coined the term “dual-centric” to describe people who put the same priority on their lives on and off the job.) You believe achieving balance has less to do with measuring the time you spend at work or home and more to do with how often you feel energized and positive. You assess the quality of your job, how supportive your work environment is and the support you receive in your personal life to measure balance.

“The long haul”
You define balance as a sense of your life as a whole. For instance, even though you’re happy right now in a challenging career that requires long hours, you may eventually want to work at home full-time with your children for several years, and perhaps start an entirely new career after that. For you balance is an experience you recall in retrospect, taking a long-term view. You look back on the various chapters of your life and decide whether, on the whole, your life is balanced.

“Spiritually speaking”
You view balance as a spiritual experience. Your energy is divided among many interdependent adventures in your business, family, and community, and you look for the harmony all your interests can make together. Consider this idea from author Daniel Levin: “The center is not always the point of balance. When you find that place where balance is achieved, peace will result in all situations. There is no conflict, for everything rests without strain.”

Your balanced life
After you’ve defined what you mean by balance, hold your life up to that definition and ask yourself some questions. Are there ways your life is already balanced that you haven’t acknowledged before? How important is it to you to experience more of it? If it is important, how will your life be different when you feel more balanced? Be as specific as possible. For example, you might feel:

• Improved health (fewer headaches, better sleep, fewer stomachaches)
• Greater success at work
• A calmer, more connected family
• Fewer experiences of being quick to anger or frustration

Be concrete when describing the benefits that are important to you. When you visualize what specifically will be different about your better-balanced life, you’ll feel more motivated to make changes to get there.

Taking steps toward better balance
Your definition of balance will determine the steps you choose to take to experience more of it. For example, research conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that dual-centric professionals use these strategies:

• Create strict boundaries between the time you are working and not working
• Be emotionally present when you are physically present
• Take time for rest and recovery
• Be intentional about the way you want to live and be clear about priorities

If you define balance by measuring how you spend your time, you can keep a log of your activities and note where the imbalances are. Review the log at least weekly and look for small adjustments you can make or habits you can challenge. Notice the effects your changes have on your sense of balance the following week.

If you take a long-term view of balance, imagine yourself in the future, looking back at your balanced life. In the voice of your future self, write a letter to a friend or loved one describing how you’ve experienced balance in your life. Review your letter and note how close or how far away it makes balance look right now.

If you look at balance more spiritually, examine your life and write down the personal threads that tie your actions together. Create a list of questions to ask yourself when you consider taking on new challenges or when you evaluate old roles to make sure they weave together with the rest.
Different strategies may appeal to you. Brainstorm a list of possibilities, cross off the ones that are unrealistic and choose one or two new strategies to develop beginning today. Consider working with a friend or life coach to help you stay motivated and work through any obstacles.

Celebrating success
The patterns in our lives shift constantly. Balance is not so much an end goal as it is a way of experiencing life. We have more or less of it at any given time, but over all, it should feel within our grasp. To help you gauge what actions are having the most impact on your sense of balance, keep a notebook of what you’re noticing about balance in your life. Are some or all of the benefits of balance you identified taking shape? If they are, acknowledge that accomplishment. Treat yourself to something special and meaningful for encouragement. You will be amazed to see the huge impact a few small changes can have on your outlook. They can move you from battling with balance to living with balance.

(1) Levin, Daniel, Zen Cards (Carlsbad, Ca.: Hay House, Inc., 2001).
(2) Galinsky, Ellen, "Dual-Centric: A New Concept of Work-Life," [http://www.familiesandwork.org/summary/global.pdf], May 2003.

Author's Bio: 

Heather Mundell, a certified professional coach and founder of Dream Big Coaching Services, works with professional women who want to enjoy meaningful work and a fulfilling personal life at the same time. Heather helps her clients clarify what they want, remove obstacles and create and execute a plan of action that results in success. To learn more about coaching and about Heather, visit her website at http://www.dreambigcoaching.com.